Let’s start by clearing the air...
If you’re a 22 year old world class athlete who eats a clean diet of grass fed meat and organic vegetables, skip this article and just get right to the technique section. You don’t need to supplement your diet. Heck, when I was your age I lived off frozen pizza, beer, and cigarettes and I could probably still kick your ass.
Ah, how times change.
But if you’re over 30 and you eat a fairly typical modern diet, then read on. You can benefit from adding some smart supplementation to your diet.
The supplement industry is huge, and it can be overwhelming. I went to a vitamin shop once looking for a simple energy boost. I escaped 45 minutes later with nothing but a headache and a confused look on my face.
So, how do you make sense of supplements?
There is no magic pill that will fix a poor diet. You don’t have to be perfect, just start by being aware of what you’re putting into your body. You can get huge results with a series of small changes, always slowly moving towards a healthier ideal.
There are literally hundreds of ‘special’ diets out there, Atkins, Gracie, South Beach, Vegan, Paleo, and the list goes on. The truth is that they can all give you good results. Just like different approaches to jiu-jitsu can yield success, so can different approaches to eating. One size does not fit all, so choose something that feels right to you and then stick with it for long enough to get the results you want.
If you want the one single tip that will yield the most benefit, here it is. Eat less sugar.
Americans eat an estimated 152 pounds per person each year. And while the UK is better, 80 pounds per person is nothing to brag about. Most people know that excess sugar consumption can cause obesity and diabetes, but it also causes inflammation, hypertension, and many of other health ailments.
If you want more information about how damaging the excess sugar in our modern diets can be, search YouTube for the lecture ‘The Bitter Truth’ by Dr. Robert H Lustig, or check out the book Pure, White & Deadly by John Yudkin. They both go into the biochemistry of how fructose is metabolized differently than glucose, and the negative impact of those differences on your health.
It really does matter what you eat. Calories are not all created equal.
It’s very easy to get lead astray by the slick marketing common in the supplement industry. Heck, every guy I know wants to be ripped and have beautiful half naked women throw themselves at him.
But we have to be honest with ourselves here, are you willing to do the work it takes to look like a fitness model, or do you want to feel good and improve as a jiu-jitsu player? If you are clear about your goals from the start, it’s a lot easier to not get caught up in buying something that you probably don’t need, and won’t do you a lot of good anyway.
Write down your goals. Are you trying to lose weight? Do you have sore joints that are preventing you from enjoying your training? Are you always out of energy? Do you want to improve your strength? Are you trying to slow down your aging? Do you want to improve your mental game and cognition?
Next take an honest look at where your diet is weak. If you are a vegetarian look at adding plant based proteins and amino acids to be sure you aren’t missing those important elements in your diet. If you hate eating vegetables you might want to add a greens drink mix to help shore up weakness in this area. This will be different for everyone.
The more specific you are about your goals in this step, the more success you’ll have in achieving them.
Let’s say you have knee pain. Head to Google and type in “knee pain nutritional supplements”. You’ll get back 2.9 million results. Go to a number of the websites from your search and jot down the various ingredients different people are promoting. Try not to get too caught up in the hype just yet.
Once you’ve got your list, head on over to the US National Institutes of Health Pub Med Central at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/. There you’ll find free full text articles on the various ingredients you’ve discovered.
Another great resource is the Dietary Supplements Labels Database hosted by the National Library of Medicine. http://dietarysupplements.nlm.nih.gov/dietary/ This one is a little easier to use, but doesn’t have as much information as the Pub Med Central.
Another source of research which is much less scientific, but might be just as valuable, is your training partners. Ask around and find out who’s taking what and how it works for them. You might be surprised how much knowledge you can find in your local club. You’ll also learn what to stay away from and what companies are worth avoiding.
You might be tempted to skip this step, but that would be a mistake. When I first started buying supplements I got my protein powders from the local Wal-Mart because it was cheap and easy. It tasted great too, just like a chocolate milkshake!
But if I would have done a little more research up front, I would have avoided the problems that were printed right on the ingredient panel. Things like the ‘Proprietary Sunflower Supplement Blend’ that’s basically coffee creamer, corn syrup solids, and aspartame. Your free tip of the day; avoid the Sunflower Supplement Blend.
Now that you’re all excited about the research you’ve done, you might be tempted to jump into the supplement thing with both feet. But it’s important to go slowly with any new change in your diet, and especially with supplements.
Sometimes guys will get started with 5 different products and they either have great results, or something doesn’t agree with them and they feel worse than they did before they started. Either way they have no idea what caused the effects because they started taking everything at once. Then they get frustrated and give up altogether.
The best way to approach things is to pick just a single supplement to start with, and just use that product for a reasonable amount of time. Joint support products can take 6-8 weeks to give you measurable results, while if you are testing an energy drink you can know within 5 or 6 sparring sessions how it works for you.
And that brings us to our next tip -
The truth is that everyone is different. Your genetics, your diet, your training, and your history of injuries are different from mine. That means there is a good chance we won’t experience the same results with every supplement we take, or even with different dosages or supplement schedules.
The only way to know for sure what works and what doesn’t is to keep track of your progress in a journal or log. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just note the time and dosage of the product, and then at various times how your body feels.
A typical journal might be something like this:
8:00 – took 2 Amazing Joint Support pills
12:00 – ate a big salad with chicken for lunch, still hungry!
4:00 – feeling pretty tired from work today, right shoulder is still sore from training last night
5:00 – took one dose of Super Energy Booster before rolling
8:00 – feel pretty good, went 6 rounds, didn’t gas – shoulder felt better after warming up
Once you have a few weeks of data from a journal like this you can go back in and look for patterns in your results. You might be surprised at what you learn, and how some products may have a great positive impact for you, while others don’t seem to work at all. And some products might not work today but at some point in the future may turn out great.
The body is an amazingly complex system, you’ll have much better results is you document what you put into it, and what you get back in return.
This isn’t really a secret, but still a good reminder. If you see a product listed on 3 or 4 websites for $49 and then another website you’ve never heard of for $25 you’ve got to ask yourself why. There a lots of unscrupulous vendors out there more than willing to cheat you out of your money if you give them a chance.
I shouldn’t have to spell it out for an old timer like you; after all you love a good afternoon nap. But the truth is that almost none of us get enough quality sleep. And it’s during sleep that the body does the crucial repair work that we need so we can keep grappling.
You can have a pristine diet, and purchase just the right high quality supplements, but if you don’t get enough sleep you’re not going to see the results you want. You should be looking for at least 8 hours of sleep each night. If you are trying to recover from injury, more would be even better.
So there you have it Old Grappler, 7 Secrets to Success with Supplements. I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts, or any tips you might have for the rest of us, reach out on Facebook or Twitter, or shoot me a note at Bill @ Q5Labs.com.